I admit I was a bit perplexed when I learned that TheatreLab, Richmond's "home of unexpected and evocative performance" was producing a play more than a century old. Even more perplexed knowing that TheatreLab's 2018/2019 season is "In Pursuit of Happiness."
Controversial, sure, but there's not much happy about A Doll's House.
We all know what happens when we make assumptions. I was wrong, of course. Director Joshua Chenard convinced me that Ibsen's work is just as relevant today as it was all those years ago.
The plot could have been ripped from the #MeToo headlines.
Nora Helmer (Katrinah Carol Lewis) and her husband Torvald (Landon Nagel) have, by all appearances, an ideal marriage. Torvald is devoted, they have a child, and Nora is able to use her wiles to get anything she wants.
For a 19th-century woman, she had it all. But Nora is not a typical woman of her time. The more she realizes she is just a doll in her husband's house - something to show off, play with and dress up - the more she recognizes she is an actor playing a script that has been predestined for her. Her brave, dramatic choice - to walk away from her marriage and child - was hugely controversial when the play was originally performed.
And it is just as brave and dramatic in 2018 when women are still fighting for equality, are often still viewed as objects to be possessed, and where the decision to walk away from a marriage and children - something that is accepted when it's the man who does the leaving - is still controversial. The time's haven't changed as much as we think.
I loved everything about TheatreLab's production of A Doll's House.
The set was a facade of a set. The doors and walls and objects are depicted in black marker, as if to say - the dining room is *supposed* to be here, the plants *should* go right here, and the floor boards and ceilings *ought* to be ornamental.
Photo credit: Tom Topinka
The entire cast is solid. Nora's childhood friend, Kristine Linde (Amber Marie Martinez) delivers a subtle, nuanced performance as a single woman reluctantly turning to Nora's aid in search of a job.
Anna (Jocelyn Honore) hops to her masters' commands - always present to fulfill a whim, handle a crisis, and play mother to the Torvald's son, Jon. Her performance is steady and reassuring.
Nils Krogstad (Axle Burtness) is convincing as Torvald's bank employee, a down-on-his-luck father with questionable scruples.
The child, Jon (Faris Alexander Martinez)'s performance bespoke the "children should be seen and not heard" sentiment of the time.
Todd Patterson played the crusty, disabled Doctor Rank - the couples' closest friend - with great skill and precision. When he finally reveals his feelings to Nora, the audience absorbs his pain at the rejection.
Landon Nagel's Torvald Helmer was exceptional. Tender, menacing, cowardly, and domineering. The facility with which he went from impassioned lover to outraged husband was fascinating to watch.
But oh my god! Katrinah Carol Lewis *became* Nora. I was completely drawn into her exquisite performance. From facial expressions, to hand gestures, to the way she walked I was watching a woman in an unhappy marriage trying to convince herself she was living the life she wanted. I agonized watching her squirm from Torvald - not wanting his touch but needing to use her cunning to get him to succumb to her will.
TheatreLab you have done it again. It is days later and I'm still thinking about A Doll's House and how very relevant Ibsen is even today. We think that courage has to look spectacular - Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testifying during the hearings for then Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanuagh. We think it has to send ripple waves throughout the country - the dozens of women confronting Harvey Weinstein's predatory behavior.
But Nora reminds us that sometimes the most courageous act you can perform is to look at your sham of a life and decide you are worthy of more. When the door slams and the play ends, we know that Nora is redefining what it means to be a woman - as more than just wife and mother and doll - and we know what an act of triumph it is for women everywhere.
Sometimes the pursuit of happiness is a revolutionary act.
In addition to the stellar cast, kudos belong to the entire production team:
Direction by Josh Chenard
Scenic Design by Chris Raintree
Lighting Design by Erin Barclay
Costume Design by Ruth Hedberg
Sound Design by Josh Chenard
Properties Design by Connor Scudder
Assistant Direction by Drewe Goldstein
Production Stage Management by Breezy Potter.
A Doll's House continues through Saturday December 22 2018.
For tickets visit: https://tlab-internet.choicecrm.net/templates/TLAB/#/events